So you've put in the hard work of applying to and deciding upon your college of choice, and move-in day is steadily approaching. Perhaps you've dreamed of this day for your entire life (or at least the past four years of your high school experience). It may have been your desire, as it was mine, to attend a Christian college after years of public school education. I longed to be immersed in deep spiritual community with other believers who would challenge me in my faith and become life-long friends. Whether or not you share that mindset, you will likely find that having realistic expectations of your peers and your new school will prepare you to get the most out of your Christian college experience. While you will undoubtably be presented with opportunities to grow your faith in your new college environment, enrolling in a Christian college does not provide you with a ticket to passivity in your spiritual growth and development. I hope to equip you with a few simple reminders that will help you prepare your mind and heart for the next few years ahead of you.
First, let's talk about the unique experiences available to you in a Christian college environment that you should take advantage of. Perhaps most obviously, you will likely be required or strongly encouraged to take Bible or Theology classes at your Christian college. If attending a Christian school is a new experience for you, you will probably find this exciting and refreshing, at least for the first few weeks ("You mean I get to study the Bible for homework?!"), but it can be easy to let this privilege slip from the realm of "I get to" to "I have to". In order to keep this excitement alive instead of taking it for granted, you may need to remind yourself often of the privilege and freedom it is to study God's word, especially in an academic setting. Another distinct benefit of attending a Christian college or university is the opportunity to gather together for corporate worship and/or the teaching of God's word in a chapel service. Most Christian colleges and universities offer chapel services several days a week, if not every day, and some even put requirements on attendance. While you're in the thick of your daily grind, waking up early or sacrificing time for this sort of assembly may feel like one more item on your busy schedule. Try to remember that after you graduate, you will not often find yourself with opportunities to have the joy of gathering corporately to hear from God's word or worship together with thousands of other students. Most Christian colleges even offer a chance to participate in a Spring Break missions trip, or even weekly/monthly outreach and evangelism opportunities. Involving yourself in an experience such as these forces you to put into practice the principles you are being taught in your classes, or what you are learning in your individual study of scripture or in chapel.
Aside from academics, your Christian college experience provides you with the vital growth opportunity to physically live in community with other believers. I'm talking about four-people-to-a-room or apartment, 30-people-in-a-hall sort of living. That sort of community just doesn't exist after college! I would even venture to say that the majority of faith-based-growth opportunities in a Christian college can happen in a residence hall, where fellow students and staff are placed intentionally within your living community for the purpose of sharpening residents as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). Be on the lookout for Bible studies and special events within your residence hall, but be even more prepared to learn about yourself from your interactions with roommates and hall mates as you live, laugh, struggle, and grow together. Don't forget to share with one another the things you are learning in your personal study of God's word. This sort of intentional living is discipleship at its prime. A basic rule of thumb is that the more willing you are to "get plugged in" to your residential community and student life, the more you will glean from it.
Now that we've covered a few of the basic opportunities available to you, it's time to debunk a few myths of spiritual life at a Christian college and replace them with reality:
"Everyone who attends a Christian college is a strong believer, firmly rooted in their faith."
Every human being is at a different place of spiritual maturity. We are all learning and growing in our relationship with the Lord, and it's probable that there may even be students at your Christian college who have yet to begin a relationship with the Lord. View your peers (and yourself!) with humility and grace.
"Everything you hear from a professor or speaker at a Christian college must be true."
Everything you hear, read, or are taught should be measured against Scripture. Be on your guard to not believe everything you hear, but seek to discover for yourself what the Bible has to say.
"Everyone who attends my Christian college has had the same spiritual upbringing as me, and has been taught the same things from their church as I have."
You will most likely encounter students from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds and will probably find that some other students or even professors don't believe all the same things you do. What should you do in this sort of situation? Examine the Bible, pray for guidance and understanding, seek wise counsel, and don't get into big arguments over small theological disagreements. Most schools hold the stance that instead of trying to 'indoctrinate' new students into a specific denominational mindset, the required Bible classes instead help each student, regardless of personal beliefs, to examine the important issues of faith for himself or herself.
Though this is by no means an extensive guide to collegiate spirituality, by keeping these principles in mind you will hopefully realize that your Christian college is not a perfect place filled with perfect people, but it is a place full of opportunities to strengthen your faith, and people who desire to walk alongside you through what can be truly formative years. All that is required on your part is a willing spirit to seize the opportunities in front of you and build relationships with those around you.